What could possibly be so hideously wrong with the image on the screen as to make the ultrasound tech purposely turn the screen away from our view? He looked so serious. What the heck could be wrong with our baby? Oh, jeez. Our baby is hideously deformed! Why is he so nervous? “Why did you turn the screen? How hideous is this baby?” He stood silent, as if weighing options, “Have you already had a sonogram?” Without waiting for an answer, he blurted out, “You know you’re having twins.” It really wasn’t a question. It was as if he were unburdening himself of the information. Oh for the love. My reaction was, “Of course we’re having twins. Why wouldn’t we be having twins? Are you sure there are just the two of them in there?” Lyle’s response was a chuckle, and “You’ve gotta be shittin’ me.” He did seem pretty pleased with himself. I mean, if impregnating me were an Olympic sport, he was taking the gold every eighteen months, and now he had won the biathlon. I thought he was going to get obnoxious about it until the nurse came in and beat him to it, “Well, Mr. Sommerfeld, it looks like you screwed yourself out of a seat in the car.” We laughed, and when we stopped laughing, we laughed some more. What else was there to do? The funniest thing was that it was absolutely true. We did not have seven seats in our vehicle.
“Please tell me you’re joking,” my mother’s reaction was less than encouraging. “Mom! No, I’m not joking. We’re having twins. Mom, I know this isn’t perfect.” The last time I got pregnant, it was she who comforted me, calming my fears. Now it was my turn. “It’s going to be O.K., Mom. Every baby is a gift, right?” “Of course, I just wasn’t expecting this. Twins, huh?” This must have caught my dad’s attention. I could picture him looking at her over the top of his newspaper as she confirmed to him, “They’re having twins.” “Is that right?” Then he was on the phone, “Twins, huh? Awe, congratulations! Well, I’ll be darned.” “Thanks, Dad. I hope Mom is going to be all right. I think she’s a little freaked out. I mean, can it be that much of a surprise? It’s us were talking about. Life really doesn’t happen to us in the usual way.”
Lyle’s family treated it the way we did, laugh or cry. So, they laughed. I have no doubt that they were concerned. All of our parents had reason to be. Lyle was twenty-five and I was twenty-three. The eldest of our three girls was just four years old. She wouldn’t turn five until a few months after the twins were to be born. Our youngest daughter had Downs’s syndrome. I think Lyle’s mom expressed concern about us being able to keep up with doing the exercises with her and giving her the time she needed. We were not financially fit, but we hadn’t been. Our lives had not been by the book, and we had struggled. Oh, well. Five kids under the age of five it would be. We were young, and we had rolled with the punches pretty well, so far.
We might not have “rolled” so well on the day we found out we were expecting again. I was furious with Lyle, and, although I don’t remember why, I do remember that it was a pretty weak reason. We fought the whole way home from church. I knew I was being unreasonable, but I was just so angry with him. I told him I was throwing him out. He paused, and said, “You know. The last time you threw me out, you were pregnant with Emily. And the time before that, you were pregnant with Serrah.” “Oh, really?! So, it can’t be that you’re just an asshole? Clearly, I’m pregnant, huh? WOW!” I stormed into the house and headed straight for the bathroom. I stared at those two pink lines, “Shit.” He was right. Dang it! I didn’t want to admit that he was right. I didn’t want to come out of the bathroom, because I knew he would be standing at the end of that hallway smirking at me. I also knew that I would grin back at him immediately. I had no poker face. I peeked out the door and, sure enough, there he was, smirking down that hallway at me, “You’re pregnant, aren’t ya?”. Of course, I grinned at him, “Just because you’re right doesn’t mean you’re not an asshole.” He put his arms around me and squeezed me tight. “You always get crazy and hate me when you’re first pregnant. Remember when you stabbed me in the leg with that pencil when you were pregnant with Maggie?” I was so over hearing this story, “As if you would ever let me forget. I’m not proud of that, you know, and I’m done apologizing for it. That pencil didn’t even penetrate through your jeans. Really, Lyle? I was eighteen, scared, unmarried and pregnant for the second time, AND… you really were being an asshole.” He had the same laugh that Maggie had, the one that comes from her belly. It was the laugh that always somehow made me believe that everything would be O.K., that we were in this together.
We decided to get the amniocentesis, only because we wanted to be prepared this time. We had been told that chances of having another baby with down’s was more likely after having a first. In retrospect, it seems a pretty weak theory. Regardless, we scheduled the test. I had talked to my sister, JoJo on the phone a few weeks before, “I’m losing weight, but my belly is really out there.” At four months, I was already well into my maternity clothes. She laughed, “You know that’s a sign you could be having twins?” “That’s not funny. Does that really mean I’m carrying twins?!” “I have no idea,” she laughed.
Lyle was sure he would be having two girls. I think he just didn’t want to get his hopes up. We contemplated names for girls and boys. Our first choices of boy names were Nicholas and Alex until the twins on “Full House” were born. Thanks a lot, John Stamos and your television twins. I still remember when those twins turned one year old on the show, hearing John Stamos and Lori Loughlin sing, “Happy Birthday, Nikkie and Aaaaalex!” I shot a dirty look at the T.V. Scrap those names. In our very own real-life full house, Nickie would become Max and Alex would become Ben. Yes, I was carrying boys.
I secretly worried what I would do for a coat when the weather got cold. Yet, at Halloween it was nearly eighty degrees. We dressed Maggie and Serrah up, put some bunny ears on Emily who rode in the stroller, and off we went to trick or treat. As we stood in one lady’s doorway, I was verbally punched in the stomach from out of nowhere as she looked down at Emily and said, “Do you think she even knows where she is or why she’s out here?” The impact didn’t fully hit me until we were walking away. It was a good thing, because I didn’t flinch. I laughed and said, “Kids are going door to door begging for candy from strangers. None of them know where they are or why. But, they’re all having fun, and so is she.” I have to believe that was a moment of divine intervention. I’m not that cool. On my own, I probably would have said something viciously condescending to her, and it would have gotten really personal. I don’t want to believe she was referring to Emily having Down’s, but what else could she have meant? Lots of young families were out with one or two kids actively trick or treating, and a baby in a stroller. Maybe she was truly against the idea of people taking babies out on Halloween. I’ll never know, but it was unsettling, and probably lucky for her that my inner mama bear was hibernating that night. It was too perfect a night for us to be bothered by it, although Lyle’s tongue might have been bleeding a little bit as we moved on to the next house.
“I’m putting you on bed rest.” Dr. Eash informed me a few weeks later. “Bed rest? I have three little girls. I will not be resting in a bed. I could sit in the recliner and just yell at them as they run amok. The only one who can’t outrun me is Emily, anyway, and that’s only because she just started crawling. I guess I’m done doing daycare.” His response reflected the wisdom and intuitiveness I had come to love and expect from my doctor, “Yes. You will have to quit doing daycare. You are also going to have to lower your standards. Accept that it’s going to be a long time before everything is in its place again. You are going to have to learn what ‘good enough’ is.” I hate it when everyone else is right about ridiculous things!
We did travel the two and a half hour drive to Bismarck for Thanksgiving. I was due just before Christmas. “I don’t recommend it. You’re dilated to two,” was my doctor’s response the week before. “I bet I’d be dilated to at least one without even being pregnant. I mean, if people constantly keep coming out a door, does it ever really get a chance to close? I had a dream that you were delivering my babies and they just kept coming like scarves from a magicians sleeve.” He chuckled as he helped me sit up. “I suppose you would be in good hands if you went into labor in Bismarck.” “I’m not going into labor. I’ll be two weeks overdue; you’ll have to induce me, and then deliver two nine-pound bruisers. It’s going to be a freak show in January. I’m not worried about Thanksgiving.” Thanksgiving came and went, and still there were no twins, and there was also no snow.
Nine days before the twins were born, Lyle’s grandpa, Herman Paul Sommerfeld, passed away. Lyle had taken his grandpa to all of his radiation treatments. There was a home health nurse who came in twice a day to administer tube feedings. Lyle would go over and do the other one every evening. Herman was so excited for those twin boys to be born, but he wouldn’t be there to see them arrive. By the end of the day of his funeral, my ankles were ridiculously swollen with pitting edema. We took the girls to visitation and the funeral, having learned an awkward lesson from when my grandmother had passed away the previous spring. We didn’t take the girls to her visitation because we had told them she was in heaven, and we thought it would confuse them to see her in the casket. However, when we all got into our vehicles to proceed to the internment, Maggie piped up in the back seat, “Where are we going now?” “Um, to the cemetery.” “What’s the cemetery?” Oh, crap. “Well, that’s where her body goes, into the ground at the cemetery.” “You said Grandma Great was in heaven.” “Well, she is, but her body stays here until Jesus comes again.” “What? I want to see it.” And, then Serrah, age two, chimed in, “I want to see Grandma Great!” I looked to Lyle for support. We looked at each other knowing there was no way out. He tried, “You wouldn’t have wanted to see Grandma Great. She isn’t really here. You might have been afraid.” Maggie never did mince words, “Well, is she here or not?” Oh, forevermore! I attempted, “Grandma Great was very sick and her body stopped working, so her soul went to heaven.” Maggie was unrelenting, “So, how’s she walking around up in heaven? Is she flying?” At that point, she gave up on us and turned to Serrah, “Wonder what she looks like in heaven. I don’t get it. Do you get it?” Serrah looked at Maggie and shook her head, eyes wide with bewilderment. They exchanged exasperated looks and then scowled at us from the back seat, as if to say, “You grown-ups need to get your crap together!”
Life seemed a bit out of control, and then the chaos ensued. At the appointment before Herman Paul’s funeral, my doctor called it, “We’ll schedule a C-section for next week. One of these little guys is footling breech. He’s got his butt and one foot lodged in the pelvis. He’ll be sitting tight just like that until you go into labor, and he can’t be born like that. I stared at the ultrasound screen in disbelief, “Does the other one (Benjamen Paul) have his legs wrapped around the head of the footling one (Maxwell Herman)?” Dr. Eash chuckled, “He sure does.” “Can they hurt each other in there?” “No. The amniotic fluid is really slippery, like soapy water. They’re also coated in something like grease, and they could possibly be in different amniotic sacs.” As the doctor had predicted, the boys hadn’t changed position in the last week. I had spent that last week sleeping in a sitting position with, what seemed like, a dozen pillows propping me up on the couch. The night before surgery, those two little stinkers were ridiculously busy in there, mosh pit busy. I found myself scolding my children in utero, “There is not room in there for this! What could you be possibly doing in there? If the doctor doesn’t spank you both tomorrow, I will!” All that ruckus had been Benjamen Paul flipping the night before he was born, because now they were both breach. Never once, on an ultrasound, did I see the sweet image of either face, but their male parts were featured every single time. The last image in utero of our two little jokers, upright and face to face, said a thousand priceless words!
We woke early Wednesday, the twelfth of December to go have our twins, nervous anticipation and adrenaline pumping through our veins. Maggie and Serrah had gone to stay with Grandma and Grandpa in Bismarck, and Emily was staying with a family who had been providing respite weekends for us through Easter Seals. Last minute, as we were heading out the door to go to the hospital, we decided it would be fun to get a picture of me in front of our Christmas tree. Lyle started to giggle, “Maybe move closer to the tree. You’re completely blocking it because it’s so far behind you.” “Lyle Paul! Oh my gosh, I’m as big as a Christmas tree!” I moved closer to the tree and farther from the camera. When I heard him giggle again, I knew this was hopeless, “Just take the stupid picture! Can you see any of the tree?” “Yup, one corner and a little bit of the top. Got it.” In my defense, that tree was tiny, AND we had developed a very personal and tumultuous relationship since it had entered our home. That ridiculous tree had me laying on the floor, shimmying under the damn thing daily to water it. The stupid thing was crooked and fell over almost every day, sometimes more than once a day, requiring me to wrestle it into a vertical position, get it in its stand, and then crawl from side to side, often laying ON my side to get the screws in right, praying that it would stay vertical, sometimes failing, repeating the process, and then re-watering it. Although I lived it, I can’t even picture what that process looked like! Of course I was huge. I was about to give birth to two six and a half pound babies, and now that tree was mocking me on my way out the door. So, if you must, I was as big as a Christmas tree, a scrawny crooked pain in the arse Christmas tree!